Kevin Clifton made his debut on Strictly Come Dancing in 2013 and what an impression he made.
In his rookie year he sailed through to the final with his celeb partner TV presenter Susanna Reid. He also established himself as one of the most popular male pros on the show.
The 2014 series of Strictly kicks off properly tonight with the first of two live shows taking place over the weekend. Kevin is paired with The Saturdays singer Frankie Bridge for the series.
We caught up with Kevin to find out how rehearsals have been going with Frankie, talk about his teaching technique and discuss
Last time we spoke you thought you might have to go on tour with The Saturdays in order to get your training in with Frankie. Did that happen?
I didn’t actually go on tour with them. Basically we’ve been working on Frankie’s days off when she’s been coming back to London apart from on Friday night when I went to Wembley Arena to see The Saturdays. I went backstage and it was pretty amazing being backstage in a VIP/All Access pass scenario.
Being on tour is gruelling and surely Frankie must be pretty tired on her days off. Has she found it tough doing the training on top of the tour?
Yeah. The disadvantage we’ve got is that rather than having three weeks to put our first dance together we’ve had about five days together. We’ve had very limited time. What she’s good at on those days is making sure she gives a solid 8 hours where she just works through. She’s a real trooper and she doesn’t want any excuses just because she’s been on tour. She’s worked really hard every time she’s been in the training room. We haven’t had as much time but I’m hoping that the solid work we’ve done in the time we’ve had will be enough.
What will you and Frankie be dancing this weekend?
We’re doing the waltz.
How has Frankie found getting to grips with the grace and elegance required for the dance?
A little difficult at first because what she does with The Saturdays is all very hands on hips, turned in feet and wiggling her hips. This is not any kind of dancing that she’s used to or done before. I’ve been working on getting her to turn her feet out for a start and I gave her husband Wayne, who came in during rehearsals, homework to check at home when she’s stood still that her feet aren’t turned in (laughs). I’ve found that I’ve had to break down all of her natural instincts of what she might do on stage with The Saturdays and start again from a different stand-point.
What would you say is Frankie’s biggest asset when it comes to dancing?
After being used to taking direction she’s good at just picking up things. She’s a great listener so she’s a really good student in the training room. She’ll listen to what you’re saying and try to apply it without getting too frustrated or turning her nose up or ask questions. She really wants to apply herself to whatever you tell her to do. She’s also got a really warm personality about her and I think that comes across in the number so it’s not just a bunch of steps and technique.
We’ve noticed that Frankie has been tweeting telling you she’s doing her homework! What kind of teacher would you say that you are?
I would say I don’t like being overly strict because I think if someone’s out of their comfort zone, like in this situation, you’re only going to get the best results from encouraging people so it has to be a friendly and comfortable environment. I don’t like being too hard on her because I don’t want to put her under so much pressure that she starts to buckle a little bit or get self conscious about it all. I try to just make it light and fun and as comfortable as possible. I haven’t got the time for her to start becoming self-conscious and I just want her to be comfortable.
Even though she’s used to big crowds and performing, we imagine this must be quite nerve-wracking for her, and the other celebs. How’s she feeling ahead of the weekend?
She’s ridiculously nervous. She’s already spoken about it actually as something she might struggle with. She said that even with all her experience performing with The Saturdays she’s never been so nervous as she was just before we went on in the launch show for the group number. That’s the most nervous she’s ever been in her life and in that there was loads of people on the floor. This time it’s just me and you with millions watching and it’s live. She’s starting to get really nervous now about how things are going to go. I’m hoping it’s not going to be too much of an issue but I guess my job is to try and make her feel as comfortable as possible over the weekend.
We saw your first steps video where you reassuringly told her you’ve only dropped a partner 9 times. Is this the kind of inspiring advice you’ll be giving her to keep her mind at rest?
(laughs) Probably not! We were having a laugh and she was saying ‘don’t drop me, don’t drop me!’ and I said ‘I don’t drop partners that often, only about 9 times’ (laughs). It’s all a part of trying to keep the training sessions light-hearted and not too intense. That’s right now anyway. If we start getting further into the competition and get to the latter stages then ask me again then (laughs)
Strictly Come Dancing returns tonight at 9pm on BBC One and continues tomorrow at 7pm.